2nd Annual Vandenberg Underwater Grand Prix

Indian Valley SCUBA at the 2nd Annual Vandenberg Underwater Grand Prix

IVS at the 2nd Annual Vandenberg Underwater Grand Prix

The team from Indian Valley SCUBA headed down to Key West this past weekend May 20-22nd to represent and participate in the Wreck Racing League’s first race of the Formula H2O Racing season: The 2nd Annual Vandenberg Underwater Grand Prix in Key West, Florida. The first season of underwater scooter races proved the popularity of the sport and season two looks to further increase the participation of racers and exposure to national media. The race weekend started with an early evening arrival in Key West just in time for the race race registration and opening ceremonies at Hogfish Bar & Grill in Stock Island just east of Key West. Numerous racers, event organizers and crew of the M/V Spree turned out to discuss the two days of diving over the weekend. Co-founder of the Wreck Racing League, Joe Weatherby, welcomed the crowd to the first race of the season and described how each day was to unfold.

Wreck Racing League Opening Ceremonies at Hogfish Grill

Wreck Racing League Opening Ceremonies at Hogfish Grill

Both days of diving on the weekend would be from the M/V Spree liveaboard boat based in Stock Island with scooter practice and certification classes on Saturday and race day on Sunday. After the opening ceremonies at Hogfish Grill, the IVS crew head over to the Spree to check in and setup gear for the weekend. The IVS pickup truck had just arrived in the Keys on Friday afternoon and was packed to the brim with dive gear, video equipment and some killer Hollis DPV’s. However, our ride was no where near the most packed vehicle on the road in comparison to pick up truck we saw in Big Pine Key headed Key West jam packed dangerously high with boxes of event chairs. Ironically, the chairs were headed to a facility right next to Hogfish Grill in Stock Island for a big party on Saturday, and we got to see them again when they arrived…OK, well except for those two that flew off the top of the load in Marathon!

A Pickup Truck Full of Event Chairs Even Impresses David Valaika

A Pickup Truck Full of Event Chairs Even Impresses David Valaika

After unloading the IVS truckster, the gang headed down to downtown Key West for some late evening eats. The team enjoyed an excellent meal at Thai Life Floating Restaurant just off Route 1 in Garrison Bight. What better way to enjoy a meal in Key West than on a floating restaurant. The food was excellent, the weather was perfect and we all enjoyed watching Big David Valaika sweat buckets over the mildest Pad Thai dish ever. Good thing David V. did not add any red pepper to his dish!!

David Valaika Wonders Why He Chose Thai Food for Dinner

David Valaika Wonders Why He Chose Thai Food for Dinner

Saturday started bright and early on the M/V Spree with detailed boat and race briefings as we traveled to Western Sambo Reef for check out dives and DPV practice. The viz on Western Sambo was limited the topography fairly flat near the Spree but the few coral heads around provided an abundance of marine life. One coral head had 8 lobsters laughing at us since lobster season is months away and the coral head lies within the protection of the National Marine Sanctuary. We also saw a couple of nurse sharks and plenty of the scooters racing as all the racers tried out their rigs and worked on their racing technique.

Eight Spiny Lobsters Cram into a Coral Head on Western Sambo Reef

Eight Spiny Lobsters Cram into a Coral Head on Western Sambo Reef

After Western Sambo, the Spree traveled to the Wreck of the Vandenberg for race course setup and some serious practice with underwater scooters. David Hartman and Natalie Weatherby took care of the race course setup placing markers from the start finish on the forward balcony on the forward section of the exhaust stack all the way down a few hundred feet to the large tripod structure on top of the aft section of the forward superstructure. The bottom of the Vandenberg’s hull rests on sand in approximately 150 feet of water, but the ship is so massive that its superstructure begins about 45 feet below the surface. The course was perfect and the viz was low but manageable enough for the racers to handle the turns since there was no current all day on the Vandenberg. Each racer took a few practice runs before refilling tanks for a brief second practice dive before the Spree was to head back to port on Stock Island.   Dave Valaika even managed to spear five lionfish off the wreck as he scootered along; perhaps planting the seed of an Underwater Scooter Jousting special category for the race events…hmmmm.  Finally back on board, all the racers approved of the course and were excited and amped for an early race start on Sunday morning. Saturday night was a quiet affair for the group as all racers decided to crash early to prepare for race day.

John Glodowski Navigates the Far Tripod Turn on the Vandenberg Race Course

John Glodowski Navigates the Tripod Turn on the Vandenberg Race Course

Sunday was race day and the Spree was scheduled for an early departure to ensure placement on the proper mooring ball on the Vandenberg and to give the racers plenty of time to prepare for the big event. Viz was still poor but no current and a favorable race course setup called for speedy scooter race conditions. The racers went off in two separate groups competing in multiple classes to achieve the fastest speeds while staying within the race course. Mike Vivona won the Modified Class, Rick Iossi won the event’s Expedition Cass and Kelly Friend of Key West won the recreation Class, all racing faster than their competitors around the superstructure of the 523-foot-long former U.S. Air Force missile tracking ship. John Glodowski from Team IVS took third place in the Expedition Class with an impressive showing. Check out the video highlights of the big race in the video below and view recorded live race feeds filmed on race day on the Spree on the Formula H2O Racing Facebook Page.

The Wreck Racing League or WRL is the sanctioning body for Formula H20 Racing: the action packed sport which combines underwater scooters and scuba diving racing on artificial reefs.

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